As the new GOP-lead Congress examines possible repeal of President Obama’s health insurance policy, many citizens are faced with yet another hurdle regarding health care. Americaswire.org recently published an article which stated that a growing number of hospitals are closing or moving out of minority neighborhoods, leaving huge voids in health care services, especially trauma treatment, for residents of these communities. Award-winning reporter, Marjorie Valbrun, reports that hospitals have closed or face closure in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, St. Louis, New York, Washington and parts of New Jersey. In fact, Detroit has lost more than 1,200 hospital beds since 1998 because of closures and has no public hospital.
“This problem has been escalating dramatically and is a consequence of a system where health care is a market commodity that is bought and sold by those who can afford it,” Brian D. Smedley, vice president and director of the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, says in the article. Ms. Valbrun was drawn to this topic after witnessing the closing of the trauma center at Cleveland Clinic. “The future implications are obvious: less accessible and affordable hospital care in communities of color for people lacking private health insurance and the means of transportation to get to out-of-the-way hospitals, ” concluded Valbrun.
Adds Brian D. Smedley, Ph.D., Vice President and Director, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, “Despite passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many safety net hospitals have been and continue to be vulnerable to financial difficulties, downsizing, and in some cases closure. These institutions have disproportionately served low-income and minority communities, which often have a greater need for health care services. As we continue to work to contain health care costs, it’s important that policymakers look at the impact of hospital closures, which often have ripple effects and can leave many people with untreated health care needs that can become more serious and more expensive over time. In that respect, the funding in the ACA to expand community health centers should be protected, as health centers have done good work to expand access to high-quality health care, particularly primary care, in underserved communities.”
However, it is important to also think in terms of solutions. Thus, Dr. Smedley also notes that certainly affected citizens alerting members of Congress to the need to increase funding for safety net institutions will be important, as well as alerting state and local officials. And in this era of budget constraints, advocates for low-income communities should be mindful of the economic argument: a healthy population imposes less strain on public assistance programs and is more likely to work, increasing tax revenues thereby providing a win-win for all.
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